2017 Event Presenters: (L to R above): Dr. Robert Bouilly; Chief Ranger, John Read; Ric Lambart; and Florian Waitl. Above photo courtesy of Karen Stewart.
Yesterday, Saturday, the 11th of March 2017 was celebrated in Columbus, NM in memory of the both the tragic raid on the small town back on March 9, 1916, and of the U.S. Military response that caused Columbus to be forever marked as the birthplace of American Air Power.
The town is overwhelmed each year about this time by thousands of visitors Some come to get better educated about the history of what transpired there over a century ago, and others simply attend in order to enjoy the festive activities planned as part of the celebration by local entrepreneur, Norma Gomez, who is one of the pillars of this small village only 3 miles North of the Mexican Border town of Palomas, the town’s sister city. Norma organized and leads the town’s Chamber of Commerce. One of the biggest crowd drawing aspects of the occasion is the highly touted international Cabalgata, an exercise in which hundreds of local and distant American horsemen and women come to the village and, correspondingly, hundreds of Mexican Vaqueros and horse-riding enthusiasts come up from deep into our neighbor to the South to join reins in bi-national friendship.
The Community usually celebrates the event on two different days: The first is a special memorial Service held only on the precise day of the actual raid on the town, or on the 9th of each March, but the town also again celebrates the event on the nearest weekend, so that those who are working or still in school are able to also attend in memory of the tragic raid. The Columbus celebratory event is known at RAID DAY and regularly involves the great Cabalgata as one of the day’s highlights, an event that celebrates the good will between the two nations, something that did not exist to the same degree a century ago.
While townspeople and visitors convene in the Center of the village to take part in the annual celebration of RAID DAY, at the adjacent New Mexico State Park named after the Mexican rebel, Pancho Villa, who led the deadly raid over a century ago, many others assemble to hear selected speakers present various historical aspects and details about the legendary event of 1916.
This year there were three main presenters at the Pancho Villa State Park:
1st came Dr. Robert Bouilly (at left), recently retired Historian at the El Paso, Texas, Fort Bliss Army Sergeant Majors’ Academy. Dr. Bouilly provided a pictorial history of the Army Camp at Columbus, later known as Camp Furlong, from 1908 (8 years before the infamous RAID) to 1924, the year in which the Camp was closed, permanently. Coupled with his colorfully styled delivery, Dr. Bouilly’s numerous archival photographs from the period helped bring the historic military garrison back to life for his audience. The former Army Historian presented his program in one of the actual Army buildings that still remains intact from the period he described, over a hundred years ago.
Dr. Bouilly has been a frequent source of new historical findings for the FASF and has been one of its most helpful advisors on historical matters relating to the First Aero Squadron’s operations both in Columbus and Mexico. His personal library on the First Aero Squadron’s place in American and World History is most likely one of the most comprehensive to be found anywhere.
2nd came Ric Lambart, (at right) of the First Aero Squadron Foundation, who presented a Power Point Show that included not only archival photographs, but also videos. These graphics were used to help the audience understand his assertion that, while the launching of the Army’s Jenny Biplanes in response to the Villa raid marked the beginning of American Air Power, it was the result of the Army’s First Aero Squadron’s cumulative endeavor at Columbus, by 1917, that helped post WWI America experience a rebirth of its basically dead civil aviation industry.
While Europe had sped rapidly by American Aviation competency after the Wright Brothers’ historic 1st heavier-than-air flight, in respect to both military and civilian aviation status, not many years after the “War to End All Wars,” America once again managed to move ahead of its European competitors. Lambart contended that it was what the First Aero Squadron at Columbus had accomplished in perfecting its fabled “Jenny” biplane before it entered the Great War, that essentially laid the fertile groundwork for the post-war civilian aviation boom that regained U.S. industry leadership – a position which the United States has been able to maintain to this day.
3rd (at left) came Florian Waitl, a native of Germany and former U.S. Naval Officer, who resides in Kansas City, Missouri. Florian is a military historian and analyst for the U.S. Army at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. He regularly supports the Army and, specifically, the Command and General Staff College at the Fort, through the development and conduct of various “Staff Rides” on battlefields around the world. His private company, Human Dimension Leadership Consulting (HDLC), specializes in providing leadership development training not only to military clients but also to the civilian industry such as business leaders and CEO’s.
Mr. Waitl led an interactive and lively discussion with the assembled Pancho Villa State Park guests. His discussion topic was supported by a PowerPoint presentation that took a closer look at the manifold lessons in leadership that arose as the result of Pancho Villa’s Raid on Columbus and the subsequent “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico by General “Black Jack” Pershing a century ago. He shared a great deal of his extensive knowledge about the many lessons learned on the battlefield in respect to leadership development and organizational improvements. He also informed the audience about the dynamics and benefits of the field or virtual “staff rides” his company offers. Dr. Bouilly regularly conducted such “staff rides” into and around the Columbus area with his Sergeants Major Academy students from Fort Bliss, TX. The town’s residents and visitors will continue to see these staff rides being conducted around Columbus and the adjacent old Camp Furlong grounds.
* CHS = Columbus Historical Society